The micropolitics of behavioural interventions: a new materialist analysis

Nick J Fox, Elise Klein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Behavioural approaches are increasingly used in both the global North and South as means to effect government policy. These interventions aim to encourage preferred behaviours by subtly shaping choices, applying incentives or employing punitive measures. Recent digital technology developments extend the reach of these behavioural approaches. While these approaches have been criticised from political science perspectives, in this paper we apply an innovative mode of analysis of behavioural policy approaches founded in a ‘new materialist’ ontology of affects, assemblages and capacities. This perspective enables us to explore their ‘micropolitical’ impact – on those who are their subjects, but also upon the wider sociocultural contexts within which they have been implemented. We examine two different behavioural interventions: the use of vouchers to incentivise new mothers to breastfeed their infants (a practice associated with improved health outcomes in both childhood and later life), and uses of debit card technologies in Australia to limit welfare recipients’ spending on alcohol, drugs and gambling. In each case, we employ a materialist methodology to analyse precisely what these interventions do, and what
(in)capacities they produce in their targeted groups. From these we draw out a more generalised critique of behavioural approaches to policy implementation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-244
Number of pages19
Issue number2
Early online date23 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


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